Students want to explore world despite terrorist attacks

By Susan Boswell and Taylor Long |
Three major terrorist strikes in the past year, including the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris which left 130 dead and 368 injured, have shaken travelers worldwide. But many college students are undeterred and want to study abroad and explore the world, students and school officials say.
“I feel horrible for the residents of France, but I am not really that afraid of anything happening to me,” University of Florida student Amanda Grinley said.
“You can’t let fear rule your life,” said Grinley, who plans to study abroad in Cannes, France during the 2016 spring semester.

Barbara Ottaviai-Jones

Barbara Ottaviai-Jones

Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, has no plans to cancel any study abroad trips as a result of recent terrorist attacks, said Barbara Ottaviani-Jones, the college’s study abroad director and faculty advisor for international students.
“The recent attacks are definitely something that the rest of the world has to be aware of,” she said. “Additionally, there are probably going to be some changes, some problems, some issues schools will be going through regarding risk management and the response that we are going to have. However, for everyone working with study abroad programs the main goal is to not scare students, just make them aware of what’s going on.”
In 2015, three major terrorist attacks took place in Europe. ISIS, a jihadist extremist militant group led by Sunni Arabs from Iraq and Syria, have been linked to the European attacks and blamed for thousands of civilian deaths.
Since the attacks, travelers have been on high alert and government agencies have been issuing updates on any possible threat.
Study abroad programs in schools throughout the U.S. are taking measures to ensure student safety and awareness.
“Not only Flagler College, but the rest of the United States’ study abroad programs have to decide whether or not to stop or interrupt any kind of trips. And try to make sure that students are not prevented from going abroad,” says Ottaviani-Jones.
Colleges and universities throughout the United States use the third party providers to assist with their students’ safety abroad. These companies are independent organizations that act as intermediaries by assisting program participants with logistics as well as provide contacts for students overseas.
Ottaviani-Jones works hand-in-hand with these organizations for Flagler’s study abroad program.
“A Flagler College student can come to me and I can send them anywhere in the world and one of those organizations is going to have a school, is going to speak English. Those organizations help me or help any kind of study abroad office and students so they can have 24/7 support in any part of the world,” she says.
One of the most popular third-party organizations used in study abroad programs is International Studies Abroad, or ISA. This organization issues guidelines, warnings and protocol procedures for students to use during times of emergency.
Representatives from ISA work closely with study abroad directors to answer questions, provide advice, and send updates regarding students who may be in a high-risk area.
In light of the Paris attacks, the ISA sent an advisory on Nov. 20 stating, “The ISA Paris staff, along with all ISA resident staff across Europe and Northern Africa, are continuing to advise students on safety precautions, areas to avoid, and reiterating the importance of reporting all travel plans. Resident staff along with ISA’s office of Health, Safety and Security are closely monitoring the situation across all ISA program sites, and will remain in constant contact with students for the remainder of their programs.”
But after the November death of an American student who was studying abroad, many questions are being raised about students’ safety while overseas.
California State Long Beach student Nohemi Gonzalez, of El Monte, California, was one of the 130 civilians killed during the Nov. 13 attacks, which took place at three venues in Paris and areas surrounding the capital.
Gonzalez was a senior who was studying industrial design and was participating in a semester abroad program at the Strate, School of Design in Paris.
The State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism found that nearly 33,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 2014.
That was a 35 percent increase over 2013.
Still, U.S. officials say the likelihood of U.S. students being killed while taking part in study abroad programs in such countries as France is low.


Meghan Mohon during her study abroad program to Ireland.

Meghan Mohon, a senior at Flagler College, said the Paris attacks have not stifled her desire to study overseas. She studied abroad in Ireland during the 2015 spring semester.
“The terror alerts were high all across Europe even when I was there, and it’s something that I and others, unfortunately have to think about while traveling. You cannot let it affect your decisions or your life,” says Mohon.
According to ForwardKeys, a traveler data intelligence website, tourism dropped in the aftermath of the attacks. “The number of tourists who canceled their trips to Paris in the week following the attacks jumped up 21 percent compared to cancellations during the same week last year. New bookings dropped by 27 percent. Bookings for Christmas are down 13 percent compared to the same period last year.”
Grinley began booking a study abroad trip to Cannes in August. Then the Paris attacks occurred. “I felt a bit hesitant at first because I was unsure if the attacks would continue and perhaps spread to other areas in the country, like Cannes,” she says, “but unless I was prevented from going by officials in this country or in France, I knew I would be boarding a flight to Cannes come February.”
Gerry Blackwood, a business administration professor at Flagler College, plans to teach a program in Paris during the summer 2016 term. “I have taught in Paris in the past and it has been a great experience for students, I hope to share this experience with students in the future,” says Blackwood.


Jennifer deGoof during her study abroad program in China.

Flagler College student Jennifer deGroof studied abroad in China. She is now planning her second trip to go to Peru in the summer. deGroof says that terrorism can happen anywhere but does not feel discouraged by the attacks. “It’s terrible what happened in Paris and my heart goes out to all those affected but you can never predict what is going to happen,” deGroof says. “I can’t allow [terrorism] to make me live my life in fear. The best thing I can do for myself is to keep moving forward.”
Students say that the academic and life experience that is gained while studying abroad is irreplaceable and schools should not stop study abroad programs because of terrorism. Many students say their parents worry more than they do about study abroad.
deGoof says at first her mom was really nervous because she had never been out of the country before, but she came to realize it was one of the best things she has ever done.
“In my experience, it is not as much the students who have concerns about traveling as their parents who are nervous about their safety while they are so far away from home,” Ottaviani-Jones says.
Tiffany Townsley, a Flagler College student, studied at the University of Stirling in Scotland. She was there for roughly six months. She said her parents were very nervous about her decision to study abroad, but that did not stop her.
“They knew how much this meant to me and they were extremely proud that I was able to go on this amazing adventure.”
Kimberly Gosline, a Flagler College student, studied in China for three weeks.
“The attacks will definitely affect some students’ decisions to study abroad, but hopefully students will understand that while the Paris attacks, and acts of terrorism around the world are unspeakably horrible, it must not stop people from continuing on with their lives. Parisians continue to go out despite the attacks. Don’t let a few extremists dictate how you live your life.”
To ensure her safety while studying in France, Grinley says, “I’ll just make sure to travel in groups, keep in close contact with those at home and on my program, and to keep my eyes open.”

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